By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG – Before going public with its cannabis awareness ad campaign, the Manitoba government turned to experts for advice — teens and young adults.
Three different focus groups with participants from 16 to 24 years old were held in September.
Documents obtained by The Canadian Press under freedom-of-information law show the young people found the proposed ads boring, sometimes didn’t get the intended message, and rejected a proposed slogan tied to former United States first lady Nancy Reagan.
One ad features a pirate-style skull and crossbones, except the bones are made of joints. The ad originally featured the phrase “Black Market Cannabis Isn’t Worth The Risk.” Some people in the focus groups didn’t seem to understand that the implied risk was an overdose or other negative effects.
“A common risk mentioned was not knowing the THC level of the marijuana purchased, but in most cases, the concern was about getting marijuana that was not strong enough, rather than purchasing marijuana that had an elevated THC level,” said a focus-group report prepared by PRA Inc. for the province.
“Most participants who had purchased street drugs felt that their sources were reliable and were not concerned about their drugs being laced.”
The government took some advice to heart and ended up replacing “black market cannabis” with “street cannabis.”
“Participants suggested that it should be called ‘street cannabis’ because black market cannabis ‘sounded like a place where you can buy a kidney,'” the report stated.
Much of the feedback was positive — the ads were described as “bland or “boring” but the informational approach was welcome. An ad warning about the dangers of impaired driving was applauded for showing how cannabis use can affect others.
One ad that showed a sullen pair of eyes against a black background, accompanied by a warning about cannabis potentially leading to depression and anxiety, got a thumbs-down.
“Some participants did not connect the image to the message, saying the eyes looked ‘like a sad high,'” the report said.
The government ended up using “Know The Risks” as its main slogan for the ad campaign. The report said it tried other options on the focus groups, including “Just Say Know” — a play on words connected to the “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign led by Reagan in the U.S. in the 1980s.
Some people in the focus groups interpreted “Just Say Know” as a “subtle message not to use cannabis as opposed to learning more about the risks,” the report states.
Combined with another ad campaign, the Manitoba government has spent $450,000 on raising awareness of the potential dangers associated with cannabis use. The ads have been in online videos, posters and mailouts.